An optimal brand name should not only be appropriate for the current company or product, it should have the capability to grow and fit into an expanded vision for its future. Think about how “Amazon” went from meaning “books online” to stand for leadership in just about every retail and entertainment category there is. A brand name is a foundational piece of your branding strategy, and often the most difficult one to produce because you are trying to convey so much with just one or two words.
A successful brand naming process must meet five criteria: be unique to the company and/or product; convey clear benefits to critical audiences; be motivational to employees and stakeholders; be sustainable over time; and be extendible to all aspects of company communications. In essence, your name should convey a unique promise about your brand, that nobody else can make. It should do so meaningfully and memorably. To help our clients in this process, we recommend the following brand naming approach in four key steps.
Step 1: Set Clear Objectives
Before trying to get creative about how a brand name should sound, it’s important to get clear about what you want the name to say. Development of a naming brief with clear naming objectives is critical for successful brand naming. The brief provides an objective framework for making naming decisions. To get to a naming brief, we conduct interviews, review company and product information and roadmaps, and conduct market and competitive audits to fully understand the opportunity, competitive names, key audiences and desired attributes. Included in the brief are functional considerations such as name length, URL requirements and international considerations, a recommendation on how descriptive or evocative the name should be, and two to three important brand ideas we call Qualities to Convey. We share this brief with a small decision-making team to make sure we have all of the objective criteria we will need to help make a brand naming decision.
Step 2: Develop Lots of Ideas
With naming objectives in hand, the creativity can begin. We usually work alone and in teams to develop multiple ideas that meet the objectives in the brief in various ways. Some ideas are very descriptive, some more metaphorical, and others completely abstract. We try not to edit ourselves during this step, because sometimes a mediocre idea can lead to a very good one. This process usually yields several hundred name ideas, all responsive to the brief, but in many different ways. Now, the selection process can begin.
Step 3: Find the Most Promising Ideas
The most important thing to remember when considering multiple name ideas is, brand naming is not a contest. There are no winners and losers. The names that make it through this step in the process should be the ones that best meet the criteria in the brief, that are easiest to say and spell, and most importantly, can actually be protected and owned. The last thing you want to have happen is to fall in love with one name or another, and then realize you can’t own it because someone else does. We narrow down name finalists by first evaluating them against the criteria in the brief, then by screening them through Google, USPTO, and URL searches. This process will inevitably result in a much shorter list of possible name candidates. These candidates are what we call “most promising” brand names, because they passed initial evaluation, and they appear to have low risk of a trademark conflict.
Step 4: Make a Case
Another thing to remember is that people rarely fall in love with a name when they first see it. After all, it’s probably just a word or two on a page at this point. This is why it is important to make a case for the short list of promising names. Making a case involves thinking through why each name meets the criteria in the brief. Try it out in marketing language and real world sentences. Try out taglines alongside it to add flavor. Even add color and visual design to make it feel more like a living, breathing idea. The more you can show yourself and other decision makers how the name might live in the real world, the easier it can be to make a decision on the 1-2 best possible brand name alternatives. Some names really come to life through this process, and others fall a bit flat. Give yourself some time to let this process sink in, because as you get used to your finalist names, it becomes much easier to make your final choice.
At the conclusion of this process, our clients have not only a name that they can own, but one that they agree met their most important criteria, is ownable, and the case has been made for its promise. This can make “falling in love” with a name much easier. It can also inform how other products or services are named, and even suggest advertising and promotional campaigns. Once you have made your decision, and importantly, you have legally protected the brand name, it takes its place at the foundation of your branding strategy.
Contact us to learn how we can help you and your organization with names and naming systems.